Casey Blake is going to start at the hot corner. Rafael Furcal is going to be the shortstop. Juan Uribe, the big off-season acquisition is going to be the second sacker. James Loney will be the man at first base. Rod Barajas is expected to get the majority of the action behind the plate.
These are all veteran players, with an emphasis on veteran. How much these guys have left and can they stay healthy are the questions that must be answered. Furcal is a better than average shortstop with decent range and a strong arm. He is a great leadoff man who can hit from both sides of the plate with a career batting average of .286 attests.
He does a good job of getting on base and is a threat to turn a walk into a double, although these numbers have dropped as he has aged. Furcal also could be a little patient at the plate as he has never gotten as many walks as you would like to see from the top spot. He does have some pop in his bat, always a bonus with a leadoff hitter.
Furcal has been a game-changer for the boys in blue. Simply put, when he plays the team scores more runs. But the problem is that Furcal has rarely played a full season since joining the team. Furcal only made it on the field for 97 games last year. He has back issues. He has had problems with his hamstring.
At 33 years of age, these problems are not going to get better. It will be up to Don Mattingly, no stranger to the problems of a bad back, to keep Furcal healthy. He is going to have to make sure that Furcal gets enough rest to stay healthy and effective.
Furcal’s double play partner this year will be Juan Uribe, who trades in the black and orange for the beautiful Dodger blue (I do not like to invoke the name of that team. Ever.). Clearly Uribe is a man of great intelligence, reportedly deciding to come to the Dodgers despite the fact that his former team was willing to match the offer.
Uribe has played shortstop for most of his career so the transition to second base will be something to watch. But Uribe was not signed for his defense. He was brought on board to provide some power to a lineup that was seriously deficient in sending the ball over the fence. The Dodgers are counting on Uribe to match his production from a year ago, if not exceed it.
At third base, the Dodgers have no real alternative but to go with the aging Casey Blake. Blake has had some good years but age is starting to become a factor. Blake will turn 38 in August and most players do not continue to produce at that age. Blake has been durable and reasonably productive in the past two seasons.
But despite playing more games last season, and having 24 more at-bats, he scored fewer runs, had fewer hits, HR, RBI, total bases, walks, and saw a big drop in his average. It is hard to imagine that his numbers will rebound this season. I hope I am wrong as Blake seems like a standup player who works hard and plays hard.
First base is a position that must see more production from James Loney this year. Loney was a part of that heralded young group that came up and was supposed to restore Dodger glory, along with Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier.
Loney has been very durable since becoming the starter and has fielded his position well. But offensively Loney has never really taken off. He has been solid and consistent but not spectacular. Loney has never cracked the 100 RBI plateau or scored more than 73 runs in a season.
If he could lift his game to the next level and become an elite hitter, then the Dodgers could have four legit guys who can hurt you in the middle of the lineup. As of now, Loney does not put fear in the heart of the opposing pitcher. The Dodgers, assuming they have the money available, could consider going after Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols next year if Loney does not lift his game to their level.
Behind the plate, don’t expect much offense from Rod Barajas or from the return of Dioner Navarro. The 35 year old Barajas hit a surprising 17 homers and knocked in 47 runs with the Mets and Dodgers last season. But his numbers dropped from the previous season in Toronto. It is unlikely that Barajas will be able to put up those same numbers this season.
Navarro has never been a good hitter, having one good season offensively, in 2008, before seeing a huge drop in production. Navarro fell out of favor in Tampa Bay, being unceremoniously released in the middle of the season in 2010. My guess is that Colletti needed depth and felt a one year deal was not a major risk. Hopefully a return to L.A. will rejuvenate his career.
Jamey Carroll appears to have a lock on the top reserve on the bench. His versatility is a huge asset and gives the team some flexibility and maneuverability during the game. Carroll is a respectable veteran hitter, without any power, who can fill in at any position.
There is speculation that this will be the total number of players that make the 25 man roster in 2011. Jay Gibbons can fill in at first base when Loney needs a day off and Uribe can also fill in at short or third if needed.
Many are wondering if Ivan De Jesus might make it as a reserve as he continues to attempt to comeback from a broken leg. He will have to have a monster spring if he hopes to make the roster. Otherwise he may find a return to Albuquerque in his immediate future.
Overall, the infield is not a source of great comfort looking forward. The age of the infield is older than I would prefer. As a result, there is the increased potential for a continuation of the trend of a loss of production and injury.
Loney and Uribe need to have great years and Furcal must play in 130 games if this team is going to score enough runs to reach the top of the division and prevent the Dodger faithful from tearing out their hair. Can they do it? Absolutely. Will they do it? We shall see.